William McKinley and His America

By H. Wayne Morgan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 15
Cuba Libre!

CUBA LIES in the Caribbean, a scant hundred miles from the shores of Florida. “The Pearl of the Antilles,” once the treasure house and seat of government of much of Spain's vast empire in the New World, held many allures for her neighbors to the north. Boasting a rich Spanish culture and agricultural wealth, the island was important to the United States for more than economics. History, some said destiny, joined the fortunes of these two lands. The affairs of one inevitably affected the other.

The post—Civil War generation in America favored Cuba's sporadic struggles for independence. The Spanish dominated both the economy and the government. Sharp awareness of their lot among Cubans led to violence that flared into open revolt between 1868 and 1878 and again in 1895. Each uprising sent tremors northward to stimulate ambitious, sympathetic, or mercenary men. To most Americans the struggles were birth pangs of freedom. To others, like William Randolph Hearst, they were the chance for fame, enshrinement in history books, and a kind of power. To several presidents they were a source of chronic and time-consuming worry and doubt. While the demands for intervention were often loud and persuasive, no president except Grant lent them a willing ear. The severe and protracted economic problems of the 1880s and 1890s drew American attention inward. McKinley's election ended those issues and inevitably turned American attention outward.1

The “Ever Faithful Isle,” whose loyalty the mother country did not forget even as the other colonies declared independence, was the richest of Spain's jewels. Her emotional ties with Cuba were strong, just as emotion evoked most of America's sympathy. This depth of feeling fed the tenacity with which the Spanish suppressed the two Cuban rebellions of the late nineteenth century. In Spain itself the people were poor, sullen under the weight of political oppression, sharply divided into classes, but also alive to the echoes of an imperial past that found its focus in the very name Cuba, to give the nation a kind of unity in foreign affairs. The government was reactionary and the dy-

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